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Lynne Plowman (left) with members of the Merian Ensemble in Atlanta

A Welsh Composer Abroad

We talk with Composer of the Month Lynne Plowman about her work for the international concert platform

Long established on the UK scene, in recent years Lynne Plowman has gained increasing recognition abroad for her music, receiving several commissions from ensembles in Europe and North America. Particularly helpful in raising her profile was an award in 2017 from the PRSF/Esme Fairbairn Composers Fund: “This helped me to promote my operas internationally, eventually leading to a conversation with Opéra-Théâtre Junior in Geneva,” she says. “The company commissioned a new French translation of my WNO opera for youth chorus, The Face in the Mirror and they created and performed a beautiful new production of the show in Geneva last summer.”

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Opéra-Théâtre Junior, Geneva's production of The Face in the Mirror, 2022

Subsequent European interest came from Ensemble Télémaque which commissioned Clarion Call from Plowman in 2021. She spent a very happy week with the musicians in Marseilles, alongside fellow composers Richard Baker and Sarah Lianne Lewis who had also written pieces for the ensemble. “It felt like quite a luxurious amount of time compared with the limited rehearsal schedule that you would normally expect in the UK,” Plowman remembers. “The ensemble had received funding to buy and develop their own building – a beautiful rehearsal-performance space in the suburbs – which is unheard of for contemporary music ensembles in the UK.”   

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Lynne Plowman (right) with composers Sarah Lianne Lewis and Richard Baker

and members of Ensemble Télémaque, Marselilles, 2021

Like many of her peers, Plowman regularly uses social media to keep in touch with arts news and events.  She occasionally responds to musicians’ calls for scores, including one from Atlanta’s Merian Ensemble for which she sent a duo for oboe and harp. This led to an invitation from them to compose a new work for the full ensemble (also funded by the PRSF). “I went out to Atlanta in 2022 for the rehearsals and premiere, with my travel funded by Wales Arts International,” says Plowman. “While I was in Atlanta, I met the pianist, Elena Cholakova, who went on to commission a set of piano pieces from me, Dances with Bells and Birds, which she premiered in Prague last year.” 


For Plowman making that all-important first contact is crucial, and it seems very much the case that one thing almost inevitably leads to another. A significant result of Plowman’s Atlanta visit are two CDs which will be released later this year: “The first, in August is the Merian Ensemble’s new album which includes my piece, Small World,” says Plowman.  “It was premiered in Atlanta in 2022 and recorded in the studio earlier this year.  The ensemble was formed by principal players from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, with the aim of performing and promoting music by women composers, past and present. The second release is Elena’s Cholakova’s solo piano CD which will include Dances with Bells and Birds. This forms part of a project by Elena to commission solo piano repertoire by women composers – some of the pieces are still being written, so that will be recorded towards the end of this year.”


America seems to be a land of opportunity for Plowman but how does she think the scene there differs from that in the UK? “There’s a different financial culture, with more private philanthropy in America, rather than public funding, though many of the artistic struggles are the same,” answers Plowman. “The musicians I spoke to in Atlanta especially looked up to the BBC and were completely aghast that the BBC Singers were under threat.”


The challenges faced by BBC musicians are common to those being experienced by much of the UK’s performing arts sector. Does Plowman feel that the British arts scene could learn anything from foreign counterparts when it comes to funding? “I think our arts organisations are doing everything they can just to stay afloat at the moment,” she remarks. “It’s our policy makers and politicians who need to understand and learn from both models. The arts in the UK need far more investment at every level, and from every potential source, and economic policies need radical change to facilitate that.”


One way in which organisations have tackled shrinking budgets is to co-commission music in collaboration with similar bodies at home and abroad. Plowman’s new work for harp and strings was funded by the Presteigne Festival and the Grand Teton Music Festival, USA so does she feel that this is the way forward?  “In the right circumstances, especially for larger ensembles, international co-commissioning has enormous advantages’” says Plowman. “For composers, it means a greater number of guaranteed performances and a wider audience for new work – and for commissioners, it’s more affordable and gives them access to a wider range of composers.“


Lynne Plowman is a renowned teacher of composition and holds posts at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and with the Dyfed Young Composers scheme. What advice would she offer her students about gaining performances abroad? “It’s all about building personal connections to start with,” Plowman responds. “Exchange opportunities for students, as part of undergraduate or postgraduate study, are great, as are summer schools."


Despite living in an era of insularity and ever-widening global division, Plowman remains passionate about the benefits and joys of international collaboration: "Sometimes just meeting one musician from another country who loves your music can lead to them championing your compositions within their own network," she enthuses. "My advice would be to nurture those relationships, and reciprocate by helping them too.”


Lynne Plowman’s The Wind Sweepers will be performed by UPROAR at Theatr Soar, Merthyr Tudful on 22 March info and at Rhosygilwen, Cilgerran on 23 March 2024 info

▶ Composer of the Month: Lynne Plowman

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